Mahmoud Abbas’ Heat Level: Blazing move against Israel’s potential annexations

  • Abbas’ blazing speech puts an end to Palestine’s security agreement with Israel and the US.
  • + With the formation of the new Israeli government, the West Bank is imminently threatened.
  • + Trump’s support of Israel seems unconditional.
Source: Alaa Badarneh ~ EPA

Why is Abbas’ heat level blazing?

Answer: He has ended Palestine’s security agreement with Israel and the US.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East, has recently expressed how in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak “inspiring examples of cooperation have sweetened the decades-old conflict between Israel and Palestine. For instance, on May 19th, 2020, Israel fully equipped an UAE airplane to deliver medical supplies, testing kits and protective gear to the Palestinians; whose medics  have largely been trained by its neighbor Israel. However, the formation of the new Israeli government and the annexation plans attached to the coalition agreement may put an end to any quasi-tangible progress between Israel and Palestine. 

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) since 2005 and 2004 respectively, decided to terminate Palestine’s mutual obligations with Israel on the 20th of May 2020. Through a strong track record of diplomatic duties; in juxtaposition to the PLO’s insurgent policies, Abbas’ blazing hot move embodies a u-turn in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as it shatters into pieces the most longed for peace deal in the Middle East.

“The PLO and the state of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the commitments based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones,” Abbas announced in a speech. The speech was delivered at the emergency meeting he held in Ramallah with the purpose of condemning Israeli plans to seize fragments of the occupied Palestinian land as supposedly framed in the recent Israeli government’s coalition agreement. Palestine’s President faces a memorable opportunity to demonstrate to the PLO that he is not paying lip-service to the population he claims to represent. 

What is driving Abbas’ decision?

Answer: The formation of the Thirty-fifth government of Israel.

On May 17th, 2020, a new and highly controversial government was sworn in in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel since 2009, compromised with his previous opponent, Benny Gantz, to create a power-sharing coalition that would finalize a year of three failed elections; embodying political deadlock. Nevertheless, the alternation between Bibi and Gantz seems irrelevant to Abbas when compared to the annexation plans included in the coalition agreement. According to the agreement, Bibi is entitled to hold a ballot on expansionary occupation at the Knesset from the 1st of July 2020 onward. Abbas; whose heat level has risen from chilly to blazing in the course of a speech, has anticipated what seems to be a potentially swift and speedy annexation of promised chunks of the West Bank. 

Already, in the days of Yasser Arafat Palestinian Authority’s leadership, Abbas’ appointment was seen by the West as the appointment of a leader not compromised by terror (as stated by George Bush). Abbas was the first PLO official to visit Saudi Arabia after the 1993 Gulf War; he was a signatory for the PLO in the Oslo I Accords at Camp David; and he co-wrote the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement with the Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin as a stepping stone for a future peace deal. However, his moderate, diplomatic and conservative leadership characterized by its non-violent Intifadas have left his vision of Palestinian sovereignty not only cold, but frozen for a decade. In the final days of his reign, he seems prepared not to relapse into Arafat’s errors at the same time he fights against besiege by the younger counterparts of Fatah, the political party he represents. 

What is changing Abbas’ temperature?

Answer: This time is different.

The security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, along with the US, has been a fundamental pillar of conciliation since the Oslo Process in 1993–which Abbas has in numerous occasions described as “sacred responsibility to nourish and maintain. However, Abbas appears to no longer be intimidated by a strengthened, united and well-equipped Israel; confident enough to carry out the promised annexations in the West Bank. In the face of a weak, internationally coercive diplomacy, and an unconditional Trumpian support, Israel appears unstoppable. 

But why is this time truly different? The answer lies in the fact that Israel’s new unity government with Netanyahu has explicitly announced the plan to expand Israeli sovereignty to the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. The new government marks a turning point for this land that Israel had been gradually occupying since the 1967 Middle East War because this time, it’s all but gradual. Netanyahu expressly mentioned the reasons for annexation of these regions “where the Jewish nation was born and rose. It is time to apply Israeli law on them and write another great chapter in the annals of Zionism.” Bibi’s hot statement has received a blazing response by Abbas. A response that has immediately changed his temperature due to its decisiveness and confidence. On the one hand, Abbas has made the Israeli occupation authority liable to the international community “as an occupying power over the territory of Palestine with all its consequences and repercussions based on international law” and, more specifically, the Fourth Geneva Convention. On the other hand, he has directly held the US Administration fully responsible for participating in  the “oppression” of the Palestinian people. However, what makes the biggest difference is that Abbas’ speech, for the first time in a long time, has called on the international community to take deterrent steps and impose “serious sanctions” on the Israeli people. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: All or Nothing. 

We are presented with two possible outcomes for the Palestinians:

  1. Flatus Vocis
  2. Credibility and Palestinian sovereignty

On the one hand, and par rapport the first option at stake, will Abbas’ statement materialise? Or will he paradoxically freeze again in a burning conflict? Abbas has threatened halting cooperation with Israel so many times that his words on Tuesday are worth no more than 5 bucks for many. 

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has menaced with stopping cooperation with Israel and the US plenty of times. Most recently, in 2018, the PLO voted to cut all kinds of coordination with these two countries. However, these votes never led to action but rather plentiful threats of a similar nature to the one discussed these days. It is all but clear whether Abbas’ recent declaration will materialise into an independent Palestinian security infrastructure to supersede the cooperation agreement with Israel. 

Due to his record of chilly diplomacy, in order for Abbas’ confidence to remain as hot as it has become following his statement, he will have to surpass a terribly high bar of credibility by means of coherent Palestinian actions. If Abbas finally decided to live up to his words, this would symbolise the first step towards Palestinian sovereignty as the relevance of the West Bank lies in the fact that it’s THE LAND that Palestinians seek for a State. Every inch they lose makes independence (sovereignty) less and less possible. 

Abbas’ statement has made his heat level triplicate, but will his actions burn with him? Is he aware that his declaration has implications beyond his control? For instance, Abbas seems to have no predefined action plan to confront Israeli soldiers’ raids in Palestinian controlled areas. Moreover, he does not have an action plan on Palestinian movement in the West Bank, much less a plan regarding the different parts either entirely administered by the PA (Area A), jointly run areas (B) and Israeli settlement zones (Area C). Reports from Israel highlighted how the Palestinian official forces had been ordered to “stop talking to their Israeli counterparts” following Abbas’ declaration. However, this is not possible to enforce as both parties must cooperate to guarantee free movement between the areas of the West Bank. The PA’s president will have to answer questions like the one by Khaled Elgindy; a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who wonders how “PA security who – even to travel from Area B to Area B, through Area C – have to get permission from the Israeli army,” will access Area B in the event relations froze. 

Sources: WikiMedia Commons & Washington Post 

If Abbas wants to make this statement the first step towards the achievement of Palestinian sovereignty, he will definitely need outside support. This is especially needed when we take into account that President Trump’s Middle East Plan (released in January 2020) pledges full support to Bibi’s new shared government and the annexation of an additional 30% of the West Bank. Abbas must ensure external cooperation since another scrapped agreement could transform a blazing statement into the end of the Palestinian’s de facto government.

Luisa Morely Serrano

Social Media Intern